A GROUP of Scottish berry growers have launched a large-scale recruitment drive to encourage people in Scotland who have been affected by recent coronavirus-related redundancies to come and work on their farms.
Angus Growers is a group of 19 Scottish farmers who last year produced over 12,400 tonnes of fresh berries for consumers across the UK.
However, this year they are anticipating a shortfall of 3,200 workers, almost 80% of their workforce, as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its impact on workers coming into the UK from mainland Europe.
On Friday, the UK Government announced workers involved in the production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food would be classed as critical workers and that their children would be prioritised by education providers.
James Porter, NFU Scotland’s horticulture chairman and soft fruit grower for Angus Growers, said: “For many years the Scottish berry industry has relied on recruiting workers from mainland Europe to provide seasonal labour to pick our crops due to a severe lack of availability of local workers. Due to ever growing travel restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, we are now facing a shortfall of almost 80% of the workers required in Scotland to pick our crops this season.
“I know that many people are facing redundancy across the travel and hospitality industries and I would encourage anyone who is looking for work to visit our new dedicated recruitment site and apply. People might have a misconception that picking fruit doesn’t pay that well, however all our growers pay in accordance with the Scottish Agriculture Wages Order, which is based on the national living wage. Accommodation is available on site for anyone who doesn’t live in close proximity to one of our farms, and full support and training will be provided.”
Angus Growers need to recruit over 3,000 people to pick strawberries, raspberries and blue berries and blackberries this season.
James continued:“The health and wellbeing of our staff is of paramount importance, and we are following the latest UK and Scottish Government advice and guidelines relating to Covid-19. This includes restricting access to sites to essential visitors only, controlling who comes in and out, splitting a farm’s workforce into teams and keeping these teams isolated from one another, social distancing, site lock down measures and disinfecting procedures.
“Thankfully, the risk of spread among farm workers is relatively low due to the open-air nature of harvesting activity; farms unlike offices, are large places where people can spread out.
“We want to reassure the public that if any workers do develop symptoms and need to self-isolate, farm accommodation is in “caravan park” style permanent units sleeping three or four persons, which means anyone suffering symptoms can isolate easily in a dedicated unit and have food brought to them for the period of time needed.”